Part four of Riverdale’s five-part television event — otherwise known as Rivervale and furthermore also known as the best fever dream I’ve ever had — arrives like a comet this week. A celestial event blurring the lines between reality and magic. Something to be watched with wide eyes and a dropped jaw. The night sky and Riverdale — two ever-expanding presences full of secrets and wonders. And that’s especially true for this Rivervale series-within-the-series, which pushes the show’s world into strange and topsy-turvy lands. This Riverdale/Sabrina crossover gay extravaganza truly has it all: axe-murder, witchcraft, romance, body swaps, and cosmic phenomenon. And gay kissing! Lots of gay kissing!
If I were to describe “The Witching Hour(s)” in just ten words, they would be this: Gay witches do murders in three different, interconnected timelines — HOT. More specifically, Jughead in his Rod Serling drag sets up the premise at the top, as he has done for all of these Rivervale tales: “The Witching Hour(s)” features three Blossom women, their stories echoing through time. There’s Abigail Blossom of 1892, headmistress of the Thornhill Academy For Girls, a finishing school. There’s Poppy — full name POPPY SEED BLOSSOM — of 1957, a purveyor of herbal potions for the town’s housewives, who she also has over to weekly salons where they discuss topics like Lady Chatterley’s Lover, naturally. And there’s the Cheryl Blossom we know, chaotic queer teen turned chaotic queer adult, who also runs a school for girls of sorts, though I’m not totally sure what exactly it’s a school for. Archery and witchy hijinks? Also, all three of these Blossom women are queer. Mainly because…they’re the same person? More on that later!
I’m a sucker for multi-timeline narratives (as evidenced by my Yellowjackets obsession), and Rivervale pulls out all the stops here in terms of over-the-top wardrobe, set dressing, and aesthetics for each of the three. It’s a triple-layered period piece, really. Because even “present day” Riverdale is ambivalent about its time period (and that has been especially true of the Rivervale episodes, which are folklorish in scope and design, further blurring notions like time and geography). In fact, in the lovely opening sequence that bounces between Blossoms, it took me a second to differentiate Abigail/Poppy/Cheryl, but the hair turned out to be the key (half-up curls for Abigail; a long bob with bangs for Poppy, and the usual soft waves for Cheryl).
The three interwoven tales begin at 8 a.m. on the morning of the day Bailey’s comet is set to pass over town. We watch as Abigail/Poppy/Cheryl ready themselves before their vanities, and assuming their morning routines take about an hour, that means Poppy Blossom’s boozy salon starts at, like, NINE IN THE MORNING? I suppose it was the 50s!
In the present, Cheryl reads Poppy and Abigail’s stories to Nana Rose, who is on her deathbed. Apparently, this is part of some spell. Because yes, this episode officially does establish Cheryl Blossom is a witch, a sentiment that’s presented as if we surely already knew this, and you know what? Even though it has textually been vague, of course I knew this. Even back in season one before magic descended upon Riverdale, I took one look at Cheryl Blossom and said…that’s a witch.
Let’s go through each of their stories then, shall we? In 1892, Abigail is visited by a mysterious and alluring stranger named Thomasina Topaz, played by Vanessa Morgan and presumably an ancestor of Toni. Thomasina is seeking a teaching job at Abigail’s school and also wants to shake things up by teaching the girls about science and other things beyond etiquette. Abigail asks Thomasina if she is married, and Thomasina offers a hesitant no. “Good,” Abigail replies. “I have no need for women with husbands.”
Abigail and Thomasina briefly skirmish over Thomasina’s forward-thinking philosophy about educating the girls, but Abigail rolls over easily, visiting Thomasina who’s casually stargazing through a telescope in the parlor of Thornhill. Astronomy is, in and of itself, gay. And the fact that Thomasina says in a previous episode “a comet is like a poem” ???? Incredible. Abigail tells her she’s right, which is in fact the best form of foreplay. They share my favorite kind of on-screen kiss, which is just a quick peck, a pull back to look deeply into each other eyes, and then going back in for a full-on makeout. The kiss-stare-kiss maneuver! Love it!
Thomasina isn’t technically lying about her marriage. She indeed has no husband. Because she has murdered him. Constable Keller (ancestor of Kevin) comes a-knocking, interrupting Abigail and Thomasina’s post-coitail bliss. He is in search of a MURDERESS (yes, the actual word used) by the name of Thomasina Topaz. Riverdale’s version of u-hauling is when a lesbian starts dating someone and then IMMEDIATELY harbors them as a fugitive no questions asked. That’s exactly what happens here, Abigail faking smallpox to get the constable to leave them alone.
Abigail asks Thomasina for the truth, and it goes like this: Thomasina had an arranged marriage with a cruel man who controlled and abused her, and one day she realized if she didn’t kill him first, he’d kill her. So she murdered the bad man and skipped town, seeking refuge on the steps of Thornhill. “Stay here. Stay with me. Forever,” Abigail says, a very chill and normal thing to say to a woman you’ve been romantically involved with for three seconds.
But this is, as all the other Rivervale chapters have been, a horror story. A horror story brimming with romance and camp but a horror story nonetheless. So something bad must happen. And it does. Fen Fogarty (ancestor of Fangs) shows up to inform Abigail her beloved brother has died at battle. He presents a letter supposedly from her brother stating that his dying wish is for her to marry Fen. Um! Thomasina is like this sounds weird! And indeed, Thomasina and Abigail go snooping and find lots of evidence of forgery as well as occult objects as well as a stack of death portraits, which include Abigail’s brother. “Fen Fogarty is not just a scoundrel. He’s a warlock,” Thomasina observes.
They’re interrupted by the monster himself, wielding an ax that he uses to threaten Thomasina’s life (he calls her a “saucy sapphic witch,” which like, the t-shirts make themselves!) and pressure Abigail into marrying him. DUN DUN DUNNNN.
Over in 1957, Poppy Seed Blossom is just chilling, throwing salons, giving potions to her housewife friends. Velma (1950s-ified Veronica) is bored with vanilla sex with her husband. Poppy’s got a potion for that! Tammy (1950s-ified Tabitha) wants to work the register at Pop’s, but her husband won’t let her. Poppy’s got a potion for that! Bitsy (1950s-ified Betty) wants to leave her marriage to Jack (1950s-ified Jughead), who’s pressuring her to have another child even though her first pregnancy was traumatic. Bitsy’s got a potion for that, too, offering Bitsy birth control but also…a KISS.
We’re all thinking it, right? ARE Bitsy and Poppy cousins? Some liberties are taken when it comes to the whole lineage thing in the sense that both Mädchen Amick and Lili Reinhart appear in these 50s scenes and are seemingly playing contemporaries rather than mother-daughter. Also, the eventual conclusion that Poppy is actually Abigail (again, more on that later!) suggests that even if they are related, it is extremely distant.
But I digress. Jack and Bitsy show up on Poppy’s doorstep, and Jack makes Bitsy tell her she was wrong and that she’s actually quite happy in her marriage and definitely does want to have another child with Jack. It’s very upsetting! Free Bitsy! Jack takes things even further and tells Poppy if she ever interferes with his marriage again, he’ll kill her. He rallies the rest of the men in town, and they all show up on her doorstep to tell her to stop talking to their wives, essentially. But Poppy Blossom will not be told what to do!!!!!!! Unfortunately, Kirk Keller (another one of Kevin’s cop ass ancestors) seizes the opportunity to accuse Poppy of communist sympathizing, seizing Thornhill and locking her up in the single-cell jail in town…indefinitely? Bitsy visits her in a very devastating scene where she reveals she is indeed pregnant and then, brainwashed by Jack, turns on Poppy. “You don’t know anything about me,” she says to Poppy, and it’s like a knife, because if anything, Poppy is the only person who really knows Bitsy and sees her.
At last, the night of the comet. Abigail marries Fen in a red dress and veil. Jack shows up at Poppy’s cell and begs her to help Bitsy, who has gone into labor, is having a complicated delivery, and has insisted the only person who can help is Poppy. If she helps, Jack promises to free her from this cell. Poppy goes to the hospital and delivers Bitsy’s baby, the comet throwing red light over them. But when Jack and Kirk come back, they tell Poppy she might not be going back to her cell but that she’s now on indefinite house arrest, doomed to haunt the halls of Thornhill. Bitsy waits a smooth year and then uses poison — Poppy’s last gift to her — to murder her asshole husband.
Meanwhile, Abigail ax-murders Fen, Borden-style (and in fact outright asks Fen if he has heard of Lizzie Borden mere seconds before hacking him up in bed). When she goes to Thomasina to tell her the good news, she finds a corpse and a death portrait. Fen already killed her. And in another final act of cruelty, he staggers into the room, bleeding out but still slightly alive, using his dying breaths to cast a curse on Abigail. He dooms her to immortality: “May you remain unloved and alone for all your miserable days.”
Cut to the present when a doorbell interrupts storytime with Cheryl and Nana Rose. Ding dong the witch is here! Sabrina Spellman shows up for the final minutes of the episode. “Youknow I’d do anything to help a fellow witch,” she says, hugging Cheryl and also informing us that their covens play in the same SOFTBALL LEAGUE? I’m going to need an entire episode about that (or, at the very least, a 10+ chapter fic). They then perform the ritual the entire episode has been leading up to: a transference spell.
You see, Cheryl Blossom is not actually Cheryl Blossom. She is Abigail Blossom, whose immortality forced her to construct new identities through the years. Earlier in the episode, the scene of Thomasina and Abigail’s first kiss cuts to Poppy zoning out with a little smile on her face while talking to Velma, almost as if she were remembering the kiss herself. BECAUSE SHE WAS. Poppy is Abigail and Cheryl is Abigail, and their curse is finally broken with Sabrina’s help, Abigail’s soul going into Nana Rose’s so she can die and join Thomasina in the afterlife, a reunion we indeed get to see when the two lovebirds frolic in a graveyard together. Which also means…Nana Rose’s soul has entered the body formerly known as Cheryl Blossom?
“Happy-sad endings are the best,” Sabrina says. And I’m like wow, true. But also like…wait what just happened?
Surely this isn’t retconning all of Riverdale. Rivervale has its own internal logic that exists outside of the main show’s (often paradoxical) internal logic…………right? Wrong! Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa has been very adamant about the fact that everything that happens in Rivervale is canon. There will be consequences in the main universe. And you know what? Yes. Cheryl Blossom is a witch across time. This I believe whole heartedly. And since Thomasina is also established as a witch, I choose to believe Toni Topaz is a bisexual witch legend in the main story as well. It also means the softball league for witches is CANON.
Besides, this isn’t the first time Cheryl has suggested she might be cursed and, specifically, love-cursed. She says as much, over and over, on regular-style Riverdale. Perhaps other people will have different interpretations, but I actually find the narrative in “The Witching Hour(s)” to be an interesting play on/challenging of a queerness-as-curse trope. Because, really, the character’s queerness is not at all the source of horror or what the curse is rooted in. She was queer long before she was cursed. The curse was placed on her by a vengeful man, and even despite it, she found ways to access queer love even while cursed. She was told she would live life unloved, but haven’t we seen otherwise? Cheryl and Toni might not be together in the present, but they did, at one point, love each other. The ability to subvert a powerful curse in the name of love? Baby, that’s gay!
All in all, the episode views like fanfiction fantasy brought to life tbh. And I think it works as a standalone story as well as fitting into the larger arc of Rivervale, this strange and imo successful experiment Riverdale‘s been running that boils the show’s most basic themes down into little horror-fantasy mythologies. The experiment concludes next week with “The Jughead Paradox,” the series’ 100th episode.